Editor’s note: Jennifer Sikora is the vice president of marketing at CivicScience, a Pittsburgh research firm.

Our recent report on the topic of U.S. consumer sentiment on marijuana legalization resulted in widespread reporting among the news media and on social networks with regards to the topline results of our study. Among 453,653 U.S.-based adults who answered the question, “Would you support or oppose a law in your state that would legalize, tax and regulate marijuana like alcohol?” over the past 10 months, 58 percent of respondents said that they strongly or somewhat support such laws, with 35 percent voicing opposition and 7 percent having no strong opinion.

Looking at just the three most recent months’ worth of respondents, the shift continued more toward marijuana’s favor: 61 percent of respondents strongly or somewhat support such laws, with 30 percent in opposition:

If the media attention is any indication, people really seem to be fascinated by this groundswell of public opinion, but now what?

The intent of the report wasn’t to reveal topline results that are similar to poll findings by the Pew Foundation and others. Rather, it was to dig deeper into this massive sample of respondents and the millions of polling responses that have been aggregated about them over time, with the goal of finding insights that may be meaningful to marketers. But why should marketers care?

Consumer marketers should be staying on top of where their current customers stand on some of these core socio-political issues and how those stances align with their brands. Are the politics and values of your brand shared by those of your most loyal customers? Does that differ among consumers you are seeking to persuade? And how do your competitors’ fans stack up?

Not to mention that it no longer seems as far-fetched to imagine a world where advertising for marijuana-based offerings soon will be needed, similar to the marketing of tobacco, alcohol and even e-cigarette products. It’s even possible that marijuana marketing could look similar to pharmaceutical ads, due to increased documentation of medical benefits. The times, they are indeed highly changing.

Here are some of the insights revealed about marijuana legalization supporters in this study:

By gender: Men (60 percent) are slightly more likely than women (55 percent) to be supporters.

By age: We see consistent support levels across age groups, with numbers peaking at 67 percent among those aged 25-34. The only age group that opposes legalization, on balance, are those over age 65 (where 50 percent oppose and 43 percent support).

By education: Support is 3 percent higher among those with graduate degrees or Ph.D.s than those having less education but otherwise support percentages are consistent across other education levels.

By income: Here too we see that results are fairly consistent with the topline numbers across income categories.

Parental status: Supporters are less likely to be parents or grandparents than opponents; 65 percent of non-parents are in support; 56 percent of parents support; and 47 percent of grandparents support.

By region: As evident from the topline data shown in Figure 1, most respondents (63 percent) have a strong view on this topic, whether it’s one of support or opposition. The aggregate response data by U.S. region also reflects this, with most of the opposition more likely to be seen in middle America and the Southeast regions.

Political leanings: The biggest difference remains largely political, with 41 percent of Independents, 37 percent of Democrats and 21 percent of Republicans saying they “strongly support” such legalization. When it comes to those who “strongly oppose” marijuana legalization, 53 percent of Republicans say this vs. 32 percent of Independents and 17 percent of Democrats.

Beyond the demographic and political breakdowns of the different respondent segments, the report also looked at how a handful of brands rank among the strongest supporters of legalization and the strongest opponents of legalization. Respondents were asked to describe whether they loved, liked, didn’t like, had no opinion of or never heard of the brand. Those who say they “loved” or “liked” the brand were combined in the study to a group that was considered to favor the brand.

As the data shows, newer brands that tend to be more youth-leaning rank higher in favorability by those who strongly support marijuana legalization, such as Red Bull, Starbucks, Chipotle, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Apple and Mini cars. What is interesting to see, however, is that strong “American” brands such as Budweiser and The Gap are also more favored by the strong supporters. The Gap has a long history of cause-based marketing campaigns, which may explain the lift we see here but Budweiser was less expected to over-index in favorability (by 36 percent) among strong supporters compared to strong opponents.

Among the strongest opponents of such legalization, “heartland” brands like Walmart, Shoney’s, Cabela’s and Cracker Barrel still rank higher in favorability than among marijuana legalization’s strongest supporters. This correlates well with Figure 1.

Other insights that the study found, which may be of interest to certain marketers, include:

• Wine drinkers: Among those who say they drink wine “often,” 34 percent strongly support marijuana legalization and 25 percent strongly oppose it. This suggests there may be a more general liberalness toward controlled substance consumption among supporters.

• Social networking: Strong supporters are bigger social networkers, with 73 percent of them having a Facebook account vs. 56 percent of strong opponents. They are also more influenced about what to buy and what to watch based on social media recommendations or comments (40 percent of supporters say this vs. 34 percent of strong opponents) vs. TV ads or Web-based ads.

• Online shopping: Strong supporters are also more likely to frequently shop online (35 percent of them say this vs. 25 percent of strong opponents).

What this means for marketers

Based on the data mined from these 400,000+ respondents we’ve gathered over the past several years, we can see that consumers who support the legalization of marijuana look more and more like the general U.S. population – in both sentiment and behaviors across a wide range of areas. In this time of change in both consumer opinion and legislation, marketers would do well to be aware of their brand champions’ attitudes. For example, if a network sitcom on which they have paid advertising has a pro-pot episode, do they know if they have enough marijuana legalization supporters loving their brand to feel confident that the brand will sail through unscathed? Are there persuadable fans of the competition who might disagree with publicly stated, anti-legalization positions of that brand’s leadership and who could potentially respond to a campaign hinting at an alternative viewpoint?

With nearly half of the U.S. (23 states plus the District of Columbia) having laws legalizing marijuana for medical use at minimum, it is inevitable that marketing research opportunities associated with this trend will grow, well … like a weed.


About the methodology:
This report the data collected from 453,653 U.S.-based adults, weighted for U.S. census representativeness for gender and age (18 years and older), from November 12, 2012, to August 8, 2014. Respondents were crosstabulated against other poll questions answered at any point in that time period. A minimum of 1,000 combined responses to any crosstabbed questions were required to be included in this analysis.